“There was a risk related to me leaving my current employer — I had achieved my targets for the first half of the year and was due to receive some commissions. But these commissions were going to be paid at the end of the year and if I left before then, I would forfeit what I felt was a significant amount of money. But with the potential employer, there was more room for growth and participation in more exciting projects.”
This was a conversation I had with a friend a year ago regarding how he made the difficult decision to leave his current employer. At the end of it, he went to the bargaining table with a counter-offer that seemed risky, even to me who advocates for taking chances.
Eventually, he signed an impressive package with his new employer, complete with a sign on bonus and a guaranteed 20 per cent raise if he hit certain targets within the first three months. We were all in awe. On further conversation, I discovered that he credited his mentor with his successes in negotiating all his successful packages.
Using their experience to be better
The mentor-mentee relationship is one that has been written about regularly. In an edition of Austin O’Leary’s book ‘The Career Ladder’, he posits that often, it’s hard for mentees to know what they don’t know with regards to their careers. Specifically, with regards to negotiating, it can be hard to know exactly how hard to push for certain terms without the guidance of someone who has been there and knows which boundaries are negotiable and which ones are fixed.
One case study referenced in the book stood out. One participant, a mid-20s professional had been working in one organisation for a few years and was feeling stunted in his growth. On speaking to a mentor who had gone through the same growing pains early in his career, he switched departments and eventually, industries, going in to find a more fulfilling career.
This is the nature of a mentor — someone who will present possibilities to you that you would not ‘see’ by yourself, either because they did something unorthodox or because they saw someone take a risk that paid off.
Are you my mother?
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In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg equates asking people to be our mentors the equivalent of the baby bird that, when she finds herself in an empty nest walks around asking a kitten, cow, a dog, then as she gets more desperate a plane, a boat and a car ‘Are you my mother?’
When the bird’s mother finally returns, the bird has instant clarity ‘I am a bird, and you are my mother’.
The best mentor-mentee relationships do not start off from a ‘be my mentor perspective’ but from a genuine relationship building one where you have formed a connection and rapport. This also implies that we have people in our circles who can form a starting point for mentorship, coach or connector relationship. It is so much easier to get a positive response from someone if we are introduced by a peer in their circles than if we cold-connect with them via professional networking sites or email.
What exactly do you need in your career?
As someone looking to get mentorship, clarity is the most important thing.
Are you looking for formal guidance or one time support like negotiating a contract or speaking at a conference? Are you looking for a sponsor — someone who can use their professional network to direct resources your way or a coach — someone who helps improve performance related to a specific area? Or are you looking for a connector — an experienced leader who can help introduce you to people who will be instrumental in you building important networks?
Being a good mentee
Be mindful of your mentor’s time — they are not there to review your work product or go through 20-page documents and give you feedback. Give them sufficient time to respond to your emails but most importantly, make your requests easy to understand and respond to. That way they will be inclined to help as opposed to cringing every time they see an email from you.
If the question warrants an explanation, schedule a face to face or Skype meeting to avoid long winded emails. Be engaged and keep your word, over promise wherever possible to show you appreciate and take their feedback with the importance it deserves. Be clear on what outcomes you want from face to face meetings or voice calls.